I am researching state responsibility for deprivation of land, and its consequences. I'm trying to show that state “misallocation” of state-owned land — by providing large tracks of land to political allies rather to to landless residents — is depriving large numbers of people of livelihoods and thereby contributing to some pretty serious social and political pressures. I'm doing this in Burundi.
The problem of land deprivation is huge here. It is certainly huge on people's minds, and it is huge in the news. Bringing up the topic often causes a lot of groaning and has occasionally ruined conversations, because people get so distressed about it. There have been many reports written about it by domestic and international development and human rights organizations.
However, it seems that the discussion has almost entirely avoided talk of state responsibility.
There are three commonly-identified causes of the land crisis: a large and increasing population; lack of clarity about existing land rights; and the social and political confusion that took place during the 1973 and 1992 crises, as they are called.
Nobody has yet told me that the state's current practices bear responsibility for the situation by virtue of their failing to alleviate the situation, or by exacerbating it. Nor do they agree with me when I propose it. Nobody denies it, but there is real hesitation to agree. ”You have to understand, Burundi has [insert one of the three cases above]” is how people typically respond to my hypothesis. (In today's Iwacu, “food sovereignty and land rights” are brought up as a concern in relation to anticipated possible foreign land c
oncessions as a result of Burundi's joining the East African Community. But nothing about ongoing domestic practices with the same effect.)
I'm curious why people aren't interested. I have documented enough to know that the practice occurs, and it occurs on a large enough scale to have immediate consequences in some localized areas. Several people have informed me that high-level land concessions happen in every province, so it seems likely that those concessions will have similar effects as the ones I have documented, but perhaps they don't. Perhaps it just isn't a widespread phenomenon, or perhaps the impact of state action is real but insignificant except for isolated cases. So maybe my notion is just wrong. I'm open to that possibility, of course.
But perhaps also there is reluctance to blame the government. Is the state's authority to allocate land so accepted in the culture that the state is blameless? Is there some reluctance to ally with me, a foreigner, against the members of government, who are compatriots? Is there reluctance to fall back on international human rights norms over domestic law? Is there a social norm against blaming individuals?
This poses the question of how much I should advance the evidence I have, in the face of resistance to the idea. If the facts prove not to support my hypothesis, of course, then that's that. But if my hypothesis turns out to have some merit — that the government bears direct responsibility for the current crises — and if this has been resisted not because of information gaps but because of people's relationship with the state, then what are the risks of pushing the idea?